Archive for the ‘US Military’ Category

My last visit to Fort Sumter was in August 1997. The air was heavy with moisture to the point of being just shy of raining, it was 95 in the shade and I was six months pregnant. My only recollection of the visit is the air conditioned gift shop which is where I spent most of my time on the island. Fast forward 17 years and it was hat and gloves weather with a whole lot of fog on my most recent visit.

Charleston Church Flag and fountain
View from the ferry-boat looking back at Charleston

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union and on April 12, 1861, the Confederate Army fired on the Federal soldiers at the yet completed Fort Sumter. It would be four bloody combat years and over 600,000 dead before the Union Forces recaptured Fort Sumter. The Civil War’s first fatality occurred at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1861, the day after the battle ended. Private Daniel Hough died while loading a canon for the Union’s 100-gun salute to the U.S. flag. The canon round discharged prematurely and killed him.

Fort Sumter is part of the National Park Service. Liberty Square (near the Aquarium) and Patriots Point (Mt Pleasant) are the two locations where you can catch the ferry to the island. Once there you can choose to wander around on your own or listen to the roughly 10 minute historic talk by the Park Ranger which I found very interesting. Click here for scheduled times.

Fort Sumter Park Ranger
Our Park Ranger ~ interesting with a touch of humor. Careful though, he’ll test your Civil War knowledge

A Canon facing out to the water ~ we couldn’t see far due to the heavy fog

Fort Sumter
Gallery area

Fort Sumter II
Another view of the Gallery

Fort Sumter Canons
Heavy Artillery within the Gallery

Fort Sumter Canon swivels
Swivels for the heavy artillery

Fort Sumter Battery Isaac Huger
Battery Isaac Hunger, named after Brigadier General Isaac Huger, is a concrete fortification built on Fort Sumter in 1898-99 as part of a major coastal defense upgrade.

Charleston Bench through the porthole
A restful spot inside the fort

Fort Sumter 100 years ago this month 2014
A reminder of what happened 150 years ago in Charleston

Fort Sumter One of the shells
An artillery shell embedded in the wall

Fort Sumter outside the walls
Outside wall of Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter fishing in the fog
Fishing in the fog just off the island of Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter Heron
Heron in the fog

Fort Sumter bird and rope
Another Heron bracing against the wind

Fort Sumter Bottle on the beach
We were hoping there was a message in this bottle ~ but there wasn’t

Charleston two dolphin playing at the front of the ferry boat
Bottlenose dolphins escorting us back to Charleston. The Park Ranger on the ferry explained the dolphins like to swim in front of the boat because it creates a wave they can ride. It was obvious they were having a lot of fun!

Charleston Dolphin surfing at the front of the ferry boat
A single dolphin riding a wave

General Anderson, who was in command when Fort Sumter fell into Confederate hands, returned (from retirement) on April 14, 1865 to re-raise the Federal Flag when the Union Forces recaptured the fort. Sadly, it was the same day President Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, DC while attending a play.

Image of the “raising the flag” ceremony on April 14 1865. (a Library of Congress image)

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Mulberry Island is a small little oasis with picnic areas along the water and a lovely brick home called The Matthew Jones House. It’s also known as “Bourbon”. It’s located on the south side of Virginia Route 60 on the Fort Eustis Military Reservation in Newport News. The original part of the house was built in 1727 (as evidenced by the inscription on the window) but was remodeled in the 1800s. Its architecture shows a transition into the Georgian Period.

Since this wasn’t a planned visit, I couldn’t get a tour inside the house but I enjoyed walking around the grounds. There’s a hawk’s nest close to the house and I loved watching them in flight. The hawks weren’t so thrilled with my presence as noted by their LOUD squawks.

Matthew Jones House "Bourbon"

Matthew Jones House Split Rail Fence
Split Rail Fence at the Matthew Jones House

Matthew Jones House
The Matthew Jones House “Bourbon”

Matthew Jones House
Matthew Jones House

Blue Heron
Blue Heron on Mulberry Island, Virginia

Hawk in Flight
Hawk in Flight on Mulberry Island (nest next to the Matthew Jones House)

Hawks guarding their nest

Hawk in flight II
Gorgeous Wing span

Hawk in flight III

Next time I visit Fort Eustis, I will contact the Fort Eustis Historical and Archaeological Association (FEHAA) for an interior tour. If you’re interested contact them at 757-872-8283 or e-mail at info@fehaa.org. The tour is free of charge. The Matthew Jones House has been documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey.

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Grafenwöhr was our stomping grounds from 2001 to 2005 and it was so nice to be back in the area.  It’s a beautiful location and it’s grown quite a bit since we left but it still has several historic buildings:

Water Tower, Grafenwoehr

Water Tower, Grafenwöhr

Forsthaus circa 1909

Forsthaus circa 1909

We lived about 30 minutes from Graf in the sleepy town of Neunkirchen bei Weiden. It has two churches, the kindergarten my daughter attended, lots of walking/biking paths and much more. We met many wonderful friends when we lived there and still keep in contact with them.  A flood of memories came rushing back as we drove into town:

sign for Neunkirchen

We saw a rainbow as we drove toward Neunkirchen ~ made me feel welcomed:


When we lived in Neunkirchen, we had two large dogs who loved running free in the forest surrounding the town.  We went back to see if there were any changes and we’re happy to report everything appears exactly the same.

Logan in the forest

Logan in the forest

It’s important to keep a lookout for interesting things when driving in Germany, you never know what you might see along the road. Here’s a tiny chapel:

Little chapel near Kaltenbrunn

or a cross along the road:

Bench and cross near kaltenbrunn

We went to our favorite restaurant, Pegasus not once but twice. We were considered stammtisch (a regular) when we lived in Neunkirchen.  We would walk in and they wouldn’t even ask our order ~ they would just bring our drinks and food to the table.  Unless mussels were in season, then John would change his order.  If you’re in the area and get a chance to go to Pegasus, I highly recommend the Scampi Diavolo.

On Friday, we went to lunch at Pegasus with our German neighbor, Norbert and his son.  Then today, as we headed out of town and at the last minute, we decided to swing by and eat there one more time since we have no idea when our next trip to Germany will be.  Surprisingly,as we drove into the parking lot, we saw Norbert walking toward the entrance!!  Must be fate ~ we couldn’t have planned it any better.

Pegasus at the flugplatz ~ our favorite restaurant

Pegasus at the flugplatz ~ our favorite restaurant


Neunkirchen is very close to Weiden which is a very pretty German town with a lovely pedestrian zone (Fußgängerzone).  It looks even prettier with Christmas decorations.  We met with our friends, Nadja, German and their two adorable daughters for dinner in Weiden:

With Nadja and fam in Weiden

More of beautiful Weiden at night:

Arch to Weiden

Archway to Weiden


This was less of a sightseeing trip and more of a chance to reconnect with old friends.  From the looks of our photos, we ate our way through Germany!  Good food, Great friends!

Lunch with Youngs, Gilbertsons


Eating our way through Germany

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Space Available

During our current PCS (permanent change of station), John had more leave time than we had money so we decided to attempt a Space A vacation.  For those of you not familiar with Space A, The United States Air Force offers Space-Available (Space A) travel as a benefit to all active duty, dependents (with restrictions) and retired Uniformed Services members. There are different categories during travel depending on the circumstances.  For example, Cat 1 (highest category) would be for those on Emergency leave ~ they get picked first.  Rank does NOT factor into  category or selection.  To find your category, check the link below.

Space Available travel is a great benefit for Military families if you have a lot of leave time (something like block leave), are flexible, are willing to be patient while waiting for flights and would like to save a lot of money on airline tickets. It’s not for the faint of heart.  Ideally, you’ll have a place to stay with friends or family because making hotel reservations in advance is not an option.

In the 17 years I’ve been an Army wife, I’ve used Space A twice.  The first time, it was just Logan and I taking a hop from Germany to the states to visit with my mom.  It was in January 2002 and so easy to get on the flights because most kids were in school. The aircraft was a charter so it was just like flying commercial.  It’s much harder to catch a flight when schools are out whether it be for summer vacation,Christmas, New Years or Spring break.

A lot of the passenger terminals are on Facebook and update their flight status at least twice daily.  It’s also important to CALL and speak with an actual person at the desk for the absolute most updated info.  For example: we were planning to travel from Hickam AFB, Hawaii to Travis AFB, California. Unfortunately, even though there were four flights scheduled and we were very optimistic we would make it to Travis that day,  all four flights were cancelled and we ended up spending the day on the North Shore at the beach, paddle boarding.

Not only do you need to be flexible, have a backup plan. John has a  PACE plan which stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency plans.  Thankfully, we only made it to alternate plans or as I call it, Plan B.  I can’t thank our friend, Heather, enough for welcoming us to her home in Oahu.  When we landed in Hawaii there was a huge military exercise going on so there were no hotel rooms or rental cars available. We finally found a rental car after a long search.

Here’s a link for the FAQs re: Space A  http://www.military.com/Travel/Content1/0%2C%2CSAF_faq%2C00.html

Lessons Learned from our Space A adventure:

  • Things change frequently ~ check the facebook updates, call directly or hang out in the terminal. Sometimes unlisted flights go out and allow space A folks to hop on.
  • All the aircrafts we were on (C5, C17 and a KC10) were COLD and loud. Be sure to wear lots of layers.  I’m talking ski hat and gloves wouldn’t be inappropriate :).  Ear plugs are a must.  On most flights, the crew will pass out ear plugs but take your own just in case.
  • You must wear close toe shoes.
  • Luggage weight can’t exceed 2 bags and 70 pounds (less on smaller planes). Pack light!
  • Buy the in flight meals for about $5.00 ~ they’re substantial. Our meals included a sandwich, chips, fruit, soda, water and granola bar.
  • Be flexible ~ we got “stuck” in Travis AFB, CA but really enjoyed visiting San Francisco, Muir Woods, Stanford and UCDavis.
  • Be prepared to rent a car one way in order to reach your final destination.
  • Make sure you understand the sign up procedures. You’re put on the list according to when you sign up so it’s important to email all the terminals you may use during your trip.
  • Don’t bother venting your frustration if a flight cancels.  You’ve got to be able to roll with the punches.  It’s all about what the mission requires not about transporting passengers.  One thing I noticed while traveling ~ people were disappointed but no one got angry.
  • Be prepared to spend money on a cab, rental car and/or lodging.
  • Enjoy where ever you end up ~ whether it be California, Alaska, Illinois, etc… Enjoy the journey!!!!

If anyone else has done Space A and has additional lessons learned, please leave a comment with your advice.  It’s such a great benefit but takes a little planning.  For those of you who have never tried it,  it’s a lot of fun and can lead to unexpected adventures.

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Here are a few photos from the Deployment Ceremony:

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Feb 14th thru the 21 is National Salute to a Hospitalized Veteran Week


There are many veterans who are hospitalized but I’m getting the word out about one in particular. He’s a soldier who was injured while on a deployment in Iraq in early 2007. He was attached to FM’s unit at the time and he continues to recover from injuries he sustained, injuries which required having a leg amputated. 
This young man lost more than a leg ~ his wife left him and he’s lost touch with many friends due to his extended stay in the hospital.  He certainly could use a little cheering up and, more importantly, a reminder he’s not forgotten. 
If you want to send a card and/or a care package, please leave a comment or email me directly and I’ll send his address.  

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An American Hero

A week ago Friday, we attended a Veteran’s Day ceremony which included an award presentation. The Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) was posthumously awarded to SSG Travis Atkins of 2-14 IN. The award  was graciously accepted by his parents and his 12 year old son, Trevor. The DSC is the second highest military award and SSG Atkins earned it on 1 June 2007 when he sacrificed himself by engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a suicide bomber and , in doing so, he saved the lives of his squad members.

I met his parents earlier this year, during Memorial Day weekend, when they were here for a Poker Ride in honor of their son. When FM mentioned SSG Atkins had been awarded the DSC, I told him I thought SSG Atkins’ father would want to have the ceremony here amongst the soldiers his son served with. FM then explained to me the award is usually presented by a Four Star General and sometimes by the President. It’s usually presented at a ceremony at the Pentagon or in the hometown of the soldier.

Turns out, the family chose to accept the award here so the soldiers who served with their son could be present. They also requested the One Star General who attended their son’s funeral. I was so glad they chose to come here because I got a chance to meet Trevor, SSG Atkins’ 12 year old son. He is the most poised 12 year old I’ve ever met. We hosted a dinner for the family and the soldiers who knew SSG Atkins the night before the ceremony and I was very impressed with Trevor. He’s socially comfortable with adults, has a great sense of humor and he carried on detailed conversations with the soldiers.

The next day, at the ceremony, Trevor was seated in front of me and held his head high as they spoke in  detail about how his dad earned such an honor. I was moved to tears when I saw he kept looking over and checking on his grandfather to make sure he was OK.

At the ceremony, his mom said she was glad they chose to have the ceremony at Ft. Drum since when they’re here, they feel closer to their son . She said she kept expecting him to come walking around the corner.

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Veterans Day 2008

Thank you to all the Veterans past and present!

This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave. 

                                          ~by Elmer Davis

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A Funeral in Maine

Yesterday, we attended the funeral of Private (PVT) Kennie in Maine.

I didn’t know him personally, but FM was asked to say a few words on his behalf and I wanted to come to support FM. The only people I knew at the service were the other soldiers who made the 8.5 hour drive like we did.  The Funeral Home, where the service was held, had a gorgeous view of the rolling hills. I could only imagine how glorious it must have been a few weeks ago when the leaves were still in technicolor reds and yellows.

It was a military service with an Army chaplain presiding. FM said a few words, then the Company Commander spoke and then his Platoon Sergeant had us all in tears but with a few laughs in-between. That’s one thing I’ve come to count on from soldiers, most have a healthy sense of humor and when times are tough, they can make light of almost any situation. There were a few stories about Justin that I’m sure had to be “cleaned up” a little for the audience.  But the important thing is it brought a brief smile to all the faces there.

I knew what to expect because there are traditional military honors done at all military funerals. The casket was carried by the Honor Guard who were all Maine National Guardsmen. The folded flag was presented by a two star General and then there was the 21 gun salute which I forgot to warn Favorite Girl about ~ she jumped and thought someone might get hurt from the bullets. I explained the guns have blanks and we were safe.  At the end, Taps was played. I defy anyone with a heart to get through the playing of Taps at a funeral without at least getting a lump in your throat.

Justin will be honored next week at Ft. Drum with a Army memorial service. I’m already bracing myself for roll call which is the saddest part.  An example of the roll call would go something like this: the First Sergeant (1SGT) will call “PVT Jones” and PVT Jones will answer “Here, First Sergeant”, then the 1SGT calls “PVT Williams” and PVT Williams answers “Here, First Sergeant” and then he calls the name of the deceased which in this case will be “PVT Kennie”, silence. Then he’ll say “PVT Justin Kennie”, silence. Then he’ll say “PVT Justin J. Kennie.”  then only SILENCE…  I’m crying just typing the words.

My heart aches for his mom, dad, family, friends and fellow soldiers. He was obviously very loved and will be missed.

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Tragic Accident

There was a horrific accident here on Sunday night ~ a soldier in FM’s unit was struck and killed by a car as he attempted to take a short cut by crossing the Interstate.  Yes, not a wise decision but, we’ve all made poor choices at sometime in our lives and some of those choices have much higher consequences than others. The soldier was only 21 years old and he was hit by another soldier who is 25 years old. Although there was absolutely no way the driver was at fault, he will forever be changed by the incident.

I could hardly sleep on Sunday; I couldn’t stop thinking about his mom and how Sunday night would be her last peaceful night’s sleep for a long, long time. With a son in the Army, her worries were no doubt for his time in combat but no one expects a tragic accident such as this one.

Please keep the soldier and his family in your prayers.  And say a special prayer for the soldier who accidentally hit him.

Be safe out there!

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